SEATTLE — Authorities say a Moses Lake man who is a former employee with the state Employment Security Department was arrested Friday and charged with defrauding the government of at least $360,000 in jobless benefits.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle said Friday that Reyes De La Cruz, III, 47, of Moses Lake is “alleged to have personally enriched himself by at least $130,000 ” and to have helped others fraudulently obtain tens of thousands of dollars in benefits.
De La Cruz was arrested in Moses Lake on Friday and will make his initial appearance on the 20-count indictment on Monday in Spokane.
The investigation was first made public this past spring in the state’s audit of the massive fraud that made off with around $650 million in unemployment benefits, though authorities were able to recover a substantial amount of that.
“Dedicated investigators continue to build criminal cases against those who sought to unlawfully enrich themselves during our country’s pandemic crisis,” stated Acting U.S. Attorney Tessa M. Gorman. “In this case, an insider used his official access and knowledge to illegally enrich himself. Even as ESD faced the challenges of processing the high volume of legitimate claims, he chose to take advantage of his position to worsen the unprecedented fraud of unemployment benefits.”
De La Cruz was hired as an intake agent in April 2020 to help the ESD deal with the increase in unemployment benefits during the pandemic. He previously worked for ESD from 1996 to 2003.
Investigators say De La Cruz filed claims using other people’s personal information and had the benefits paid to debit cards that were mailed to Moses Lake addresses. After being terminated from his job, De La Cruz allegedly tried to restart claims payments to the debit cards, and also impersonated a claimant in recorded phone calls with ESD and a bank. De La Cruz is also accused of accepting bribes in exchange for engineering benefit payments for friends, family and acquaintances by making false entries in the claims database.
De La Cruz is charged with six counts of wire fraud, nine counts of bribery of an agent of an organization receiving federal funds, one count of extortion under color of official right and four counts of aggravated identity theft.
While most of last year’s fraud had been tied to foreign cybercriminals, the auditor noted that one state employee was under criminal investigation for “potential misappropriation” of an undisclosed amount of unemployment benefits.